When you create something new, whether that’s a novel, a piece of music or a complicated bit of code, you naturally want to protect your intellectual property from theft and unauthorized use.
Many people – including professionals – are still under the misconception, however, that a “poor man’s copyright” is a sufficient way to safeguard their creative works.
What is a poor man’s copyright?
A poor man’s copyright is a colloquial term for a method creators sometimes use to establish a dated record of their creative work without officially registering for copyright with the U.S. Copyright Office.
The process typically involves mailing a copy of the work to yourself and leaving the sealed envelope unopened. The idea behind this is to create a dated proof of creation and ownership by virtue of the postal stamp, in case a legal dispute ever arises.
While the concept of a “poor man’s copyright” may seem practical and cost-effective, it has several limitations and drawbacks that make it an unreliable method for protecting your creative works.
Most importantly, it does not hold any legal weight in a court of law. Simply mailing a copy of your work to yourself doesn’t provide the same level of protection as formal copyright registration. Plus, while mailing a copy to yourself might establish a date of possession, it does little to demonstrate your authorship or ownership.
Copyright registration, on the other hand, offers a comprehensive record of your work’s authorship and ownership. If you end up in a copyright dispute, having a registered copyright provides a much stronger legal foundation for your case.